Friday, 13 August 2021

Lord Asriel's room, revisited

Every now and then I go back to my old projects and either dismantle them or improve them in some way. I have for instance made room boxes with shops, and I keep adding objects or things get "sold" for other projects. 

It is almost impossible to alter something in a project that you have gifted. For some time, I kept giving my friend new items for her shoe shop, but there is a limit to how much you can squeeze in a shoe box. Mostly, when a room box leaves your hands it's out of your control. I even wonder how many of them have been kept. I shouldn't care, but I do. 

I have for a while wanted to improve the room box I made for my son many, many years ago. It was the second room box I made, and I wasn't very good at it. Every time I came to visit, I would look at the box and wish I could give it another chance, and finally the time has come: I am working on the revision of Lord Asriel's study.  

This is the before picture, more or less the final picture of the original project. 

I will not elaborate on every fault I find, but it needs a total renovation, including floors, walls, mouldings and more. The challenge, however, will be to preserve the general look so that it will still be easily recognisable. The focal point of the room is the bookshelf, which is one of those pathetic first attempts at handmade furniture, so I will replace it with a magnificent Chippendale bookcase. And the rest will have to match. 

I have just had good training for this project making my Dark Academia book nook. I don't want to copy it, but I will use some features, because Lord Asriel's study is a typical Dark Academia environment. I didn't know anything about Dark Academia when I made the box all those years ago. 

The first thing I did was of course strip the room of everything, except the wallpaper and the ceiling that I decided to keep, for the reason stated above: it must be recognisable. I left the pictures just to have some sense of what it used to be. 

The old floor was flagstone made from air-drying clay. At the time, it was an innovative technology for me, and I was proud of it, but really, why would an Oxford academic have flagstone floor in his study? It's more appropriate for a wine cellar. Hence, the first step was to make a proper hardwood parquet. I had a large piece left over from an earlier project (in fact, I cut a little bit out of it for Dark Academia) so I used it, or what could be saved of it, since a lot had to be redone to fit the new floor area. I was much more diligent with sanding the floor when it was finished. 

Next, I wanted to make dark wooden panels, and for that I have experience both from Womble Hall and Dark Academia. I used a strip of card, adding some moulding from coffee stirrers and skewers. I considered heavy skirting I have left over from Womble Hall, but it felt too bulky.

But I wanted something extraordinary for the panels, also testing something I have never done before. I had a wooden ornament from a hobby shop, and it would have been easy to just get more of them, but it's not much of a challenge. Instead, I made a mould from air-dry clay, then made multiple imprints of the ornament. 

I painted the panels with acrylic, then gave it a coat of mahogany stain and several coats of varnish. 

Close up. Yes, I see that the wallpaper is bubbly, but not much I can do about it, short of pulling it off and hanging new, and that's too much. 


I did not put the ornaments on every panel because they would interfere with the furniture. 

I wanted to add a fireplace that wasn't in the original room but of course would be indispensible in an academic's room without other heating. I happened to have a suitable fireplace surround so I didn't make one from scratch, but I will add some details to it, including a fire. A mantlepiece is a good place to put all the numerous weird objects I had in the original room. I will probably replace the mirror with a more period-correct one.

Coving in the old room was made from full-size picture frames, which at that time felt a perfect solution, but wouldn't do now. Again, I have quite a lot of leftovers from Womble Hall, and since then I have learned to use mitre shears. although even with this tool, mitring cornishes is a nightmare. I considered painting coving dark as well, but decided against it, to have something white in the room for contrast. 

As you see, I have discarded the pipes. I have tried and tested, and they just didn't go with the panels. Since I am not even sure why they were there in the first place, I don't feel bad about them. 

Before I could focus on furnishing, I needed to consider anbaric light (which, if you haven't read His Dark Materials, is what they call electricity in Lord Asriel's world). I have learned a lot about lighting in the past years, and although I still haven't found a perfect solution for Womble Hall, I have successfully made lights for some room boxes, including Dark Academia. Lights do add to the atmosphere. That said, the recipient of this room box is a lighting expert so it has to be perfect or none at all. 

What this expert taught me is the fundamental principle of display lighting is that the light sources have to be hidden. There are many ways of doing this, but I have added a top frame to hide anbaric lights behind. At this stage, I also painted all edges dark brown, to match the panels.

It does make a difference, doesn't it? I still need to make some improvements, but wanted to test. 

Now to the details. The bookcase needs to be filled with books. There were a few books in the old room, all of them with a special significance, but I need more, and of course since then I have made hundreds of books - that's not a hyperbole, really hundreds, for Womble Hall, for the library room box, and more still. 

I have some lovely books that would fit into an academic's room. They are real books, with words and pictures. Unfortunately they are a couple millimetres larger than the shelves so they will have to  be scattered around the room.  

Most books will be fake, with just covers. I estimated I would need about 60 books, and I was right: 65. It kept me busy for a while, but I didn't want to cheat with just spines. There are indeed 65 individual books that can be taken out, and at least one row is books with recognisable covers. They are all there for a reason. Others are simply generic "old books", but I used different covers and made some books larger and thicker, for variety. It does not look natural when all books are of the same size. 

Inside the room, the book case looks truly authentic. The recipient may never bother to open the bookcase and look at the books, but it doesn't matter. 

Of course I also have a copy of His Dark Materials. And a copy of one of my own books - I always leave a secret signature in my projects, like Hitchcock always has a vignette of himself in all his films. 

In the drawer of the bookcase I have put old maps, letters, newspapers, notebooks and other private and confidential stuff. 

I have already mentioned the fireplace, and it needed some extra work. To begin with, the back can never be mahogany, can it? It needs to be brick or just black. 

It is also too shiny as compared to the panellling, but I will have to live with it. I painted the back, and I had to sacrifice the fireguard because the kind of fire I wanted to insert didn't fit behind it. But I needed a fireguard, and I made one by painting a piece of fence from a farm play set. I made the fire with a flickering tea light, the way I have always made fires. This one can be put on a timer so it will switch on automatically in the evening, but in my experience it exhausts the battery quickly. But it is easy to take out, switch on and put back. There is of course a more sophisticated way to do it: drill a hole in the side wall and the fire surround and use a battery light that can be switched on from outside, but it will be, or might be, a next step. 

The wallpaper was damaged in some places, which happens when you are stupid and attach things to wall with blue tack. These spots had to be disguised, and on one wall I put a large old map of Svalbard. If you have read His Dark Materials, you know why, and if not, it plays a significant role in the books. Lord Asriel would definitely have a map of Svalbard in his study.


There was another map in the original room which I had cut from a magazine so it had no relevance at all. I replaced it with an old map of Oxford. I am afraid there is no Jordan college in this map. 

On the left-hand wall, I put some framed portraits. I don't know who these people are, but let's pretend they are famous Arctic explorers.  

The rest was more or less straightforward. I put the golden compass on a more appropriate side table. I added another occasional table by the armchair, on which I put a decanter of Tokay and two glasses. I kept Asriel's equipment for experiental theology - which is what science is called in his world.  

I put two very pretty candlesticks on the mantlepiece. I made them in my miniature club, and I think they fit fine. I also added a mantle clock. 

At a glance, the room probably looks the same, which has been the intention. But almost every feature has been improved, and I am very happy with the outcome. 


Thursday, 29 July 2021

Plants and flowers

I made my first miniature plants many years ago, when I first started miniature-making, and as with most other early endeavours, I cannot but find them pathetic although I was quite proud at the time. I have since made various flowers and plants, including a florist shop, which I still have although there is little left of the original flowers. I also once shared a long blog post about how it took me eight hours to make a geranium, which I carelessly titled "Why are handmade miniatures so ridiculously expensive?" One harsh comment to that post was: "If you ask this question there is no point explaining". Me: "Well, that's the point of my blog post". Opponent: "I don't read blogs" (that is, they only read the title). My point was that even with the minimum hourly wage and not even taking supplies into consideration, the true value of a miniature is far above the price you can ask for it. Unless, of course, you are Very Famous. 

I have made many geraniums since then; they do take a lot of time and effort, but it's fun and highly satisfactory, if you don't have to make a living out of them. 

I made many different flowers recently, and I will show some, explaining how I made them. I won't explain the geraniums again - read the old post, linked above. 

I also made some hydrangeas: the technique is more or less the same, although the flowers and the leaves are slightly different. 

Around Christmas, I made an amaryllis, which was a lot of work, but I was pleased with the result. 

I also made cyclamens and poinsettias, using my new set of punches, which of course makes life easier. 

That said, even with punches, it is a lot of work, because, as I explained in the geranium blog, each petal and leaf has to be moistered and crunched, otherwise they don't look natural, and some need a touch of paint to look real. 

For flower pots I mostly use recycled materials, such as bottle and toothpaste tube caps that I sometimes paint to resemble terracotta or whatever. Occasionally I have used wooden candle holders from hobby shops. 

I made some generic daisies, using sewing pins for stems, with the head painted yellow. 

I made quite a few generic plants out of various artificial flowers from thrift shops. They always have to be trimmed and painted, otherwise they don't look natural. (Perhaps they still don't look natural, but at least approximating natural). 

I made several bonsai trees, following a tutorial on YouTube. It is a lot of work. Wire for branches, covered with polymer clay and baked; then small ovals of organdy (I cut up a souvenir bag) covered, in this case, with moss cuttings, but you can also use shredded paper or thread. 

My son-in-law 3-D printed tiniest flower pots for me, just 1 cm tall, that I painted in terracotta and made teeny-tiny generic flowers as well as spider plants.

You need very small punches for this scale, and the leaves for spider plants I cut manually from coloured paper. 

My most recent horticultural achievement is a buxbom topiary. For it, as for some other plants, I made planters from egg cartons

It's fun making plants, and there is no limit for what you can make. I know I need to learn to make everything smaller still, so there is room for improvement. 

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Recreating a painting in 3D

Last autumn I was looking for a theme for a longer project, like a room box. Typically I build room boxes around a particular miniature, for instance, a piece of furniture, or a category of miniatures, such as clocks, shoes, bread, vegetables or flowers. But a theme can also be a starting point, for instance, a wedding.  

One day as I was having dinner, I looked at a painting I have on my kitchen wall, and suddenly I saw my new project. I would make a room box based on the painting. 

It is a gouache painting, titled appropriately "Found on the Beach" by the Swedish artist Lars Norrman,  and I have always been fond of it, but now I saw a completely new potential in it, with its array of weird objects. And it is obviously a painting emulating depth. 

I once made a room box inspired by a painting, and it was a challenge. I like challenges. 

I had a small box that I won in a lottery at the Swedish Miniature Association's Christmas meeting the year before (the first and only time I ever won anything in a lottery). I had been saving it for the right occasion, and here it was. I painted the box very dark blue on the inside and started thinking about making all those interesting details. Some were more straightforward than other, and some gave me trouble. It would be boring to take step-by-step pictures, so I will just show a couple of pictures and explain how I made the objects. 

The focal point of the painting is the blue washing basin, and it was also the first object I made from card and fixed provisionally to place the other objects around it. The painting is dark, and it isn't always easy to discern exactly what is hidden in the background, but the foreground was easier. I used real dried plants and a real conch shell. I painted a plastic bottle dark green and covered a wooden barrel with dirt. The pots in the front are bottle caps. I made the crate from an egg carton, and I cut a pill bottle in half and painted it for rusty effect. I added a rod and a rope, and I put a glass marble in a fruit net. So far so good. 

I made a half-decayed wooden boat with a mast and a torn sail. The sail was probably the most difficult thing to do as it had to be fixed in appropriate folds. I also added some random bits of wood here and there, for depth. Some details aren't even visible, but they contribute to the whole. I had to shift the objects several times before I was happy.

I glued on everything carefully before I inserted glass and added the provided frame. 

I am really pleased with this project, and it was fun to make. I will definitely be looking for more paintings to turn into a three-dimensional scene. 

Friday, 16 July 2021

Recycling and upcycling

I haven't been good at blogging in the recent months; I have hardly blogged at all, and one reason is that I have been very busy making miniatures! In the past, I used to make stuff to be used in various projects: furniture and accessories for dollhouses and room boxes, fruit and vegetables for a market stall, bread for the bakery, messy stuff for the messy kitchen, books for the library, and so on. I have seldom, if ever, made anything for the sake of making it, without having any special project in mind. Partly this was because I started attending a miniature club where you could do a larger project or just do whatever you wanted inspired by what other people were doing. I wanted to try various materials and techniques, to learn new skills. It was also liberating to be able to finish something at one go. 

In this post, I will share some things I have made recently, mostly my own design and mostly made from rubbish. I have already shared many of these small projects in various groups, but here they are all in the same place, in no particular order. 

I will start with something that has received much praise and that I am really proud of because I have never seen anything like this. 

I had been saving these boxes from interdental brushes for years, knowing that one day I would come up with something ingenious, and that day eventually arrived. As we all know, painting plastic is a h-ll of a job, but thanks to chalk paint it has become easier and neater. When I paint with chalk paint I use a hair dryer which not only makes the paint dry quicker but also makes it dry smooth. The keyboard is a printie, and I also printed out a nice screen saver, covering it with transparent plastic, recycled of course. The laptop can be opened and closed, and there is also a printie on the bottom. I made five laptops with different screens. 

Another project that I am quite pleased with is rusty objects: buckets, milk canisters, tubs and such. 

For canisters, I use eyedrop dispensers. I made a few in zink look, but I wanted to practice making things rusty, and miniature friends seem to be more enthusiastic abiout them, possibly because they need more effort and patience. The lids are metal buttons. The rectangular tubs are butter containers you get at hotels, the round one, if I am not mistaken, clotted cream, and the bath tub is cut from a shampoo bottle. The handles are paper clips. To create the rusty effect, I first paint with ochre chalk paint, then rub with various shades of chalk pastels. 

Kitchen scales was a challenge: I saw one on the web and thought: I can make it! A small wooden cube, four tiny beads for legs, metal eyelet, metal button frame and a face printed from the web. The most difficult thing was to resize the face to fit exactly on the cube. 

This was another challenge I saw on the web, but I used a full-size cat gym as a model. It was great fun to make, but you should have heard all the swearing when the bits kept falling apart.

For Easter, I made Easter decorations, making eggs from polymer clay and using bottle caps for plates and some other rubbish for wreaths. 

A ridiculously easy project is pencils and crayons made from toothpicks. 

Another easy one was bars of chocolate cut from a catalogue page I had been saving for years. I photocopied the images on a black background and wrapped around pieces of cardboard. 

I believe I have shared rugs made with embroidery thread before. Somebody gave me a band the true purpose of which is unclear to me, but it has a perfect width for rugs, and I am amused by inventing interesting designs. 


Round mats can be made with twine. 

Golf pegs can be used for many things, for instance, pretty decorative lamps with thimbles for shades. I bought a dozen or so thimbles some time ago in a charity shop. 

Roll-up curtains are easy to make with a square of fabric, skewers, thread and beads. 

Venetian blinds are cut from bamboo place mats and glued onto craft sticks. 

A stool made from that famous pizza holder, with a seat made from floor protection pad - the kind you glue onto table and chair legs. 

The plates are cut from egg cartons, painted and decorated with decoupage - I used paper napkins with floral patterns. 

Last but not least, a few things I have upcycled. You can - or could once, before they raised prices - buy inexpensive miniatures at the Danish chain shops Tiger. They are good quality, but far too new and shiny. I like things to look natural and well used. Compare the before and after picture. 


I also painted shiny metal pots and pans set from Tiger to resemble the traditional Swedish enamel kitchenware Kockums. Authentic Kockums miniatures cost a fortune, but I am pleased with my imitation. 

I will stop for now, but I have more to show, including a range of plants and flowers so come back soon. I promise it won't be another year!